If College Basketball and the NBA Draft Were Like College and the Normal Job Market

Job Interview Stock Photo

The NBA draft is on tonight, so I decided to put together a story of what the relationship between college basketball and the NBA draft would be if it were like that of the university and the normal job market.

Imagine you are midway through college, which most people enter primarily to get a better job and not for the ideals of developing as a person, intellectual, etc (motivations which are usually secondary, if present at all). You are working on your degree in a certain field, when your performance in an internship has led that elite company and other similar companies to begin recruiting you for a few fantastic jobs that don’t require you finishing your degree (If you so desire, you can always go back later and finish the coursework you started). Here in front of you arises the possibily of attaining your DREAM JOB right now, because these companies are trying to recruit talent while it’s still young and fresh, so they can develop it themselves.

If you continue with your schoolwork and wait until you have finished your degree to pursue these elite jobs, you take on the risk that these elite companies aren’t that interested in you anymore. Some second- or third-tier companies might be recruiting you for lower-paying jobs that aren’t at the pinnacle of your field, and that’s if you’re lucky. By the way, those alternative jobs also usually require moving to another continent.

So, you enter the interview process, which is lengthy and highly competitive. You’re hoping for one of these jobs, but just like with any other long interview process, you won’t be really sure if you’re going to get the job until the offers officially go out. That’s fine; you can just keep plugging away at your schoolwork while seeing how this goes. If the possibility is there for, once again, your DREAM JOB, you have to try for it, right? Here’s the catch: You need to determine early in the interview process if you want to commit to this endeavor. Why? Because there’s an early deadline, one that happens before you can get a real feel for your chances with these elite companies and long before the actual job offers might go out. What happens if you have not left the process before that deadline? You lose your college scholarship, you are kicked from your program, and you are no longer eligible for any other internships related to that field. At that point, you better hope you get a job offer. If you don’t, you can apply to one of these companies’ entry-level low-paying jobs, a purgatory from which most people don’t escape, or you can apply for a job on another continent at one of those second- or third-tier companies, which themselves are no guarantee due to limits on foreign employees.

That’s the price you pay for shooting for your dream job and seeing the interview process all the way through, while of course staying diligent with your college coursework. Except, in the normal job market, that doesn’t happen; if you don’t receive a job offer, you can just return to your studies. Hey, you had to give it a shot, though, right? Not with the NCAA.

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Comparing 2014 and 2015 Tournament Resumes on 1/8/2015

Dee Davis Talking to Mack

Since the team was in the play-in game last year, this year’s resume would have to be a solid notch better for the team not to be sweating on Selection Sunday.

Two assumptions I’m making for this analysis: Xavier beats UC, and they finish 10-8/9-9 in conference.  The second assumption seems likely, and the first one is reasonable but the odds are a bit against it.  I wanted to eliminate the UC variable, because it’s a big one in itself and eliminating it also ties up the non-conference schedule.  I’ll discuss what might arise from losing the game at the end of this post.

Though I’m leaving variable how much the Committee values some individual resume points, I’m also assuming that the caliber of tournament team is basically the same.  Basically, if the resume of this year’s team is clearly better than the resume of last year’s team, this team should be safe.

1) Non-conference SOS: A tie
– Last season’s OOC SOS was ranked 47th, while this one is projected to be ranked 44th.

2) Non-conference road/neutral record: Edge goes to this year. How significant that edge is would be based partly on the whims of the Committee.  Simply scheduling games away from home and especially road games was very significant for last year’s Committee but not as significant for the Committee two years ago.  Two years ago, though, the Committee still positively acknowledged that kind of scheduling.
– Last season (2-3) vs. this season (3-3). Slight edge to this season in terms of record.
– This year’s team was about average in how much they scheduled away from home (six total games, three road games), but last year’s team was below average (five total games, one road game), so comparatively the 2014-2015 squad looks better.

3) Advanced metrics: This year is [I]much[/I] better. How much the Committee will use those metrics this year is unknown. Two years ago they were significant in decisions but last year not as much.
– Kenpom this year 24th vs. last year 59th
– Sagarin this year 25th vs. last year 53rd
– ESPN BPI this year 21st vs. last year 54th.

3) Non-conference good wins:  Last year’s team has the edge.  A road win over a top 50 UC team would easily be the best non-conference win between the two seasons though.
– Beating UC on the road this year is distinctly better than beating them on a neutral court was last year.
– Beating Alabama at home this year is not as good as beating them on the road last year, based off the relative quality of those two teams and the venue.
– Beating Tennessee at home last year is better than beating Stephen F. Austin at home this year. The SFA win is underappreciated by Xavier fans, but the Tennessee win was still a notch better.

4) Bad losses: To be determined.  This year’s team could finish distinctly better in this department, but they also have three or five chances (depending on Marquette) for a bad loss.
– Auburn on the road this year isn’t as bad as USC on a neutral floor last year (Still bad, of course)
– DePaul on the road this year is distinctly worse than Seton Hall on the road last year.
– Seton Hall at home last year was absolutely terrible. Xavier will have to lose to Creighton or DePaul at home this season to do worse than that, or lose two or more of Marquette, @Marquette, and @Creighton.

5) Conference good wins: Based off current results, the edge goes to last year.  However, it swings strongly the other direction once you factor in future wins.
– The home win versus Providence last year is about the same as the home win versus Georgetown this year.
– The home win versus Creighton is better than the home win versus Seton Hall this year (though SH is projected on the border of “marquee” and “good” wins).
– Last year’s team had no other good wins in conference. I’m not saying this year’s team will go 10-8 (or even 9-9), but working with my initial assumption that they do, it’s basically impossible to not notch more good wins in the conference schedule. Seven of the ten teams in the conference are projected in the top 50 of RPI.

If this team beats UC and goes 10-8, their resume probably looks a good deal better than last year, thanks to scheduling a couple more road games, looking much better in metrics, and having a lot more opportunities for good wins.  With those assumptions, though, the big variable is how they get to 10-8.  They need to avoid bad losses in the process.  If it isn’t at home, one more bad loss is manageable but worse than that and the resume starts to sink quickly

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Now, what if they don’t beat UC?  They still could be mildly rewarded for scheduling three road games.  “Rewarded” isn’t really the right term here; it would be more appropriate to say they wouldn’t be punished like they were last year.  Still, their non-conference performance would be distinctly worse than last year rather than slightly worse if they had beat UC.  Avoiding bad losses in the rest of the schedule then wouldn’t just be important but an absolute must.  Obviously, they couldn’t lose at home to DePaul.  Marquette and Creighton would likely have to be swept, which has to happen anyway unless they beat a good team on the road (which would be huge) or they go undefeated at home (which would be good, especially the Villanova win, but not as significant).

So, in summary:

– Beat UC and go 10-8 or better in conference without incurring multiple more bad losses.

– Go 10-8 or better in conference while almost entirely avoiding bad losses and good God, don’t lose to DePaul at home.

After that, winning in the first round of the conference tournament would seem to make them a virtual lock.  Of course, if they don’t do that last part, they’re probably sweating bullets on that fateful Sunday.

Playing Devil’s Advocate on Semaj’s Early Departure

Semaj Christon OKC

The Thunder’s future backup point guard? / Fernando Medina, Getty Images

First, I just want to clarify that I think Semaj Christon’s best gamble to ensure long-term success was to stay one more year at Xavier before entering the draft. However, notice that I use the term “gamble.” Because it is a gamble for a player to stay in college another year, or for a player to even stay through senior year. Too often, people view going back to college for another year as the “safe” option for a player, when this choice can be quite risky in itself (This misconception is particularly common when those people root for that player’s team). Sure, you improve after another year in college, but you can still fall in the draft or end up undrafted altogether.

In its simplest terms, one should always consider a player’s rating as present production + future potential. If a player wants to move up the draft ladder by staying another year, he has to produce proportionally better results than the potential he loses in the eyes of scouts. Let’s put this in mathematical terms using arbitrary numbers:

Player X has produced 55 basketball and can potentially produce 32 more basketball

55 + 22 = 87 basketball

He decides to stay another year to improve his stock. He now produces 61 basketball (6 more basketball!), but scouts think he can only potentially produce 23 basketball (9 less basketball).

61 + 23 = 84 basketball

Player X’s hopes of moving up the ladder have floundered, and he has actually fallen because he did not produce more than his perceived potential. In fact, he produced less than that perceived potential.*

One thing I don’t get is the people who say that it was clearly a mistake for Semaj to leave, as he wasn’t selected until near the end of the draft. Some of the same people (and sometimes different people) suggest that his stock couldn’t get worse than what it was this year. The first claim isn’t clear and the second one is demonstrably false.

Semaj was generally projected in the second round, and if he hadn’t been drafted at 55th, there were a couple teams after that who were interested in him. If none of them had drafted him, he would have been one of the first undrafted players off the market (which is why the Thunder were happy to get the rights to him via draft and trade). Sure, that’s not a great position, but consider this:

1) Getting drafted 55th this year is better than getting drafted 55th a year from now. Why? Because Semaj can’t lean as heavily on his potential with each passing year, and he would still be in a non-guaranteed situation in the second round. His long-term potential is exactly why I think the Thunder will hold onto him now, but that doesn’t mean a team next year would feel the same if he was in a similar draft position, as some of that potential has been lost. Think back to the arbitrary numbers.

2) The second round might be much worse than the first round, but it’s still much better than undrafted free agency. Someone invests in a player when they draft him, because they had to pick him at the exclusion of all other options, even if they aren’t guaranteeing a contract. Basically, the team is saying, “I don’t know if you’ll catch on, but I’d rather have the exclusive rights to you than have the exclusive rights to any of those other players.”

3) If he had fallen a little further and ended up being undrafted, he would have been one of the first picked up for a summer roster this year, but that’s not necessarily true a year from now. A year from now, he could have filled out the back end of a summer roster, only to be let go at the end. Right now, he is one of the main guys in Summer League to whom the Thunder are paying attention. There are guys on that same team who aren’t receiving the same interest and whose chances of making it in the NBA are much worse, based solely on how they have already been evaluated. After a season in Europe, Kenny Frease last year was actually one of these guys. It’s not like the team picked Frease’s name out of a hat when they added him to the roster, but they definitely didn’t have the same level of interest in him as they did in some other guys.

Once again, I think Semaj’s best gamble was staying for one more year, because he would have a better chance of getting drafted in the first round with guaranteed money. It’s risky, though, because it’s only a better chance, and a lot can happen in a year. These other possibilities could have happened, and I don’t blame him for the decision he made. He looks to be in decent shape in terms of NBA chances, which might not have happened in 2015.

Mack’s Flirtation with Wake Forest and Semaj’s Deliberations

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Will these guys be back next year? (Al Behrman, AP Photo)

 

As all Xavier fans know, right now Chris Mack is under consideration for the Wake Forest head coaching position, after they (finally!) got rid of Jeff Bzdelik, who was just awful.  The interest appears to be mutual, but obviously nothing is done yet and Wake Forest is probably also considering guys still coaching in the tournament.

Semaj Christon is projected in the late first round to the middle of the second round for the 2014 NBA draft.  Right now he is deciding whether or not to enter the draft, which he will decide within the next couple weeks, most likely.  

If both come back, Xavier is going to be absolutely stacked next year.  If they don’t, I understand on both accounts.  We’ll just have to wait and see, and I’m not inclined to publish any rumors flying back and forth until then.  I’m also not interested in discussing the incoming recruits or the 2014-2015 team as a whole until all of this is decided.

EDIT:  Kamall Richards has decided to transfer, which doesn’t come as much of a surprise.  He essentially got recruited over with the commitments of Bluiett and Macura, and he wasn’t receiving many minutes prior to his mid-season injury.  If Semaj leaves, the scholarhsip situation will be settled.  If he stays, one more scholarship still needs to come from somewhere to balance out to the NCAA maximum of 13.

Xavier’s Season Ends with a Loss to NC State

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Goodbye to Isaiah Philmore, who ended his college career with an efficient 11 points. (Al Behrman, AP Photo)

Well, that was disappointing.  Xavier’s season ended in a loss to NC State when the Wolfpack held them at arm’s length for much of the game.  At key moments when they could have eliminated the deficit, they missed open threes or they turned the ball over for a fast break score.  These two issues were the story of the game.  Semaj Christon, Matt Stainbrook, and Isaiah Philmore combined for 44 points on 18-33 shooting, but the rest of the team had only 15 points on 5-22 shooting.  The team also turned the ball over 13 times, mostly through just careless passes, against a team that is generally bad at turning over their opponents.  I am not going to go that in-depth but just wanted to cover the keys to the game that I listed in the last post.

TJ Warren

Warren got buckets, though most of the time Xavier made it hard on him.  Actually, Justin Martin’s good efforts guarding him might have actually affected his production on the other end, as Warren can just wear you out.  Warren had a moderately efficient 25 points (offensive rating only at D1 average of 104 but a usage rate of 40%), so Xavier succeeded in that regard.

Where Xavier failed was prevented others from getting involved.  Ralston Turner had 17 points, going 3-7 from deep, which is pretty close to his average, but also going 3-4 inside the arc, along with knocking down two free throws.  Jordan Vandenberg had an efficient 9 points around the rim and on mid-range jumpers, but this wasn’t an awful defensive breakdown.  What hurt as much as Turner’s contribution was Tyler Lewis’ play:  7 points and 8 assists to 1 turnover.  The undersized guard was too often allowed to roam free, creating for his teammates.  Xavier would sometimes pressure him and body up against him, but they didn’t apply this pressure consistently.

Controlling the Glass

Xavier did fairly well in this regard but was not dominant on the offensive boards like they could have been (which really would have helped with the poor outside shooting).  Stainbrook was actually fully ready, which I didn’t expect.  The Wolfpack only grabbed 23.1% of their own misses, which is particularly good when you remember that they are a good offensive rebounding team.  The Musketeers grabbed 32.4% of their own misses, which is a solid mark but one that could have been better against a weak defensive rebounding team.  So, Xavier won the battle of the boards, but it wasn’t as resounding of a victory as it could have been.

Three-point shooting

NC State only went 4-14 from three-point range for 28.6%.  Turner got his, but he didn’t go off on Xavier, only scoring around his average rate, and he didn’t get easy shots.  The rest of the team combined for 1-7 from behind the arc, because the Musketeers didn’t even let the poor shooters get easy looks.  Overall, a really good job on three-point defense for a team that has struggled to defend the three.  Yes, the Wolfpack are not a good three-point shooting team, but the Musketeers didn’t slack off of them too much like they have against some other poor shooting teams this season.

The three-point offense, though, was as bad as the three-point defense was good.  Xavier also attempted 14 shots total, but they only made 2 (when they are supposed to be a better shooting team).  Dee Davis shot about at his average (1-3), but Myles’ slump continued to the end of the season (0-3), and Justin Martin, the only consistent shooter usually, went 0-6.  This killed Xavier’s chances.  There’s so much variance in three-point shooting, as even great shooters miss a majority of their attempts, so I can’t be too critical of this poor mark.  It just represents the season-long problem that Xavier never could really overcome, as shooting is one of those things that is really hard to improve mid-season.

Free throws

This did not pan out how Xavier would have wanted.  Both teams shot around their average, Xavier making 68.8% and NC State making 75.0%, but the problem was the number of attempts.  NC State is generally poor at getting to the line, and their rate at getting to the line (30.2%) was well under their season average.  On the season, though, Xavier was generally okay at getting to the line, and the Wolfpack were generally bad about sending opponents to the line, suggesting that Xavier should be able to get significantly more attempts.  In the end, the two teams had the exact same number of attempts, 16.  Philmore was in line with his season average, albeit at a low usage rate, but Semaj only had two free throw attempts and the team as a whole had a 29.1% rate, well under their 41.6% rate on the season.  Some of this may have been how the refs called the game, as they allowed a lot on the interior, but this is still an area where Xavier should have out-performed NC State.

Semaj Christon

Semaj wasn’t as effective as he could have been.  His shooting line wasn’t bad, making 5 of 9 two-pointers and 1 of 2 three-pointers, though like I just said, he only got to the line once, going 1-2.  He had recently attempted far more shots than this to try to lead his team to victory, but what probably factored in was turnovers.  Semaj had 7 of his team’s 13 turnovers (to 4 assists), which really hurt his productivity while giving free possessions to the Wolfpack.

Overall, a rough loss, but not all tournament games end prettily for teams.  I’m just happy to see Xavier back in the tournament after a one-year hiatus and I hope for better production next year.  Zeke, you will be missed, and I also bid farewell to seniors Erik Stenger and Tim Whelan.  I’ll be rooting for Villanova, Creighton, and Providence later this week (and UVA, as I’m a secondary fan), but for Xavier, the off-season begins.

NCAA Tournament: Xavier vs. NC State

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One of the most talented players to ever come through Xavier will get his chance in the Dance (USA Today Sports Images)

So Xavier gets the play-in game.  I was hoping it wouldn’t happen, I thought they were more likely to be just above it, but nevertheless, it’s a berth in the NCAA Tournament.  Also, Xavier was apparently second-to-last in the S-curve.  They will be up against the NC State Wolfpack, the very last at-large team to receive a ticket to the Dance, and a surprise pick, I might add.  The next round would be against 5-seeded SLU, who has an awesome defense and a bad offense but has been dropping fast lately.  A potential Round of 32 matchup would be Louisville.  That’s not fun, even if they built their Kenpom profile in large part off of cupcakes.

The Kenpom #66 team receiving a bid is one of the big head-scratchers on Selection Sunday next to #50 BYU receiving a 10 seed after a season-ending injury to star guard Kyle Collingsworth and #2 Louisville receiving a 4 seed.  It makes more sense when you realize that this Selection Committee didn’t make much use of Kenpom and Sagarin when making their picks (cleaving pretty closely to RPI) after two straight seasons of giving a lot of respect to these metrics when Mike Bobinski was vice-chair and chair.  This Committee also gave a lot of credit for scheduling tough in the non-conference slate (first thing Wellman said about SMU’s exclusion was that they did the exact opposite) and they also gave a lot of credit for scheduling road games.  I assumed crappy non-conference schedules and a lack of road games would hurt some teams:  SMU receiving an NIT bid, Iowa having to go to the play-in game, Louisville receiving a lower seed (but not a 4!).  I didn’t think they would reward teams so much in seeding for scheduling tough and going on the road more, which they clearly did with BYU and some A10 teams.  The Selection Committee was rather inconsistent in application, though, with Kansas State (OOC SOS 147 and zero OOC road games) receiving a 9 seed, for example.

That’s enough of that, though.  I’m a little limited on time, and I wanted to put together some things for tonight’s game.  I don’t think NC State was the most deserving pick, but that doesn’t mean they are awful.  They are actually a pretty good team, albeit inconsistent, much like Xavier.  Xavier should be favored in this game, but it could definitely be a tough one, and it all starts with:

TJ Warren

Warren was awarded ACC Player of the Year and was quite deserving of the award.  Sidenote:  Jay Bilas wined about him receiving this award over Marcus Paige or Jabari Parker because Warren had led an NIT team.  Now that it’s a tournament team, though, apparently NC State should easily handle both Xavier and then SLU in the next round.  Thanks, Bilas, for continuing to be a jackass.  Back to Warren, he is a prolific scorer as a power wing (6’8″, 233 pounds), excelling in the mid-range and at the rim while being a rather poor perimeter shooter (27.7%) but capable of some decent shooting nights from deep, which hopefully doesn’t include tonight.  The Wolfpack lean on him heavily, as his usage rate of 33.6% ranks 8th in the country and his shot rate of 37.1% ranks 4th.  But, he’s not a volume shooter.  He’s actually rather efficient, with an offensive rating of 114.6 and an effective field goal percentage of 55.0%, and he’s good at not turning the ball over either (12.3%).  While playing against ACC competition, Warren also has a 17-game streak of scoring 20 points or more, which started after Virginia held him to 4 points.  UVA employs the packline like Xavier, but they are much better at it, as it has carried them to a 1 seed in the tournament.

Xavier won’t be able to outright stop Warren, just like they couldn’t lockdown Doug McDermott.  They can only hope to make it harder on him to score, while trying to stop his teammates from making substantial contributions.  Or maybe they can just get him into foul trouble, as he has had ten games with at least 4 fouls spread out across the entire season.  Another thing that Warren is really good at crashing the glass, grabbing 10.9% of his team’s misses (which are probably his own a lot of the time).  He’s not alone in that department:

Controlling the Glass

NC State is not dominating on the offensive glass but they are definitely good, grabbing 34.8% of their own misses, good for 64th in the country.  Along with Warren, 6’8″ Lennard Freeman (10.9%) and 7’1 Jordan Vandenberg (9.4%) also make contributions.  Luckily for Xavier, this is something they have the personnel to counteract.  The Musketeers rank 54th in defensive rebounding, holding opponents to 28.8%.  Yes, there’s a question of whether Matt Stainbrook, second best in the Big East in rebounds, will be fully healthy, but that hurts Xavier more elsewhere than here.  Stainbrook has a defensive rebounding rate of 23.9%, but James Farr is actually better at 24.7% and Jalen Reynolds grabs 19.0% of opponents’ misses.  Isaiah Philmore (14.4%) and Erik Stenger (14.9%) are weaker in this department, but overall Xavier does have the personnel to generally hold NC State to one shot.  Justin Martin on the wing also grabs 17.0% of opponents’ misses, which is key, as he will often be guarding Warren.

On the other end, Xavier has a definite advantage.  Other than Freeman (17.8%) and freshman reserve 6’9″ Kyle Washington (17.7%), NC State simply does not box out, which is just one part of their overall lack of defensive discipline.  Only 13 teams in all of Division I allow opponents to grab more of their misses than the Wolfpack (36.3%).  That’s a higher rate than Xavier’s 86th average (34.1%), which is a decent mark in itself.  Yes, Stainbrook hauls in an impressive 11.9% of Xavier’s misses, but this rate actually puts him at 3rd on the squad, behind Reynolds (15.7%) and Farr (12.9%) and ahead of Philmore (10.0%).  Philmore has also been grabbing offensive boards at a higher rate than Stainbrook after an awful first third of the season (10 in 11 games), as he has grabbed 54 in 22 games since then.  So, the still recovering center, who might only be able to get limited minutes, is only the 4th best big in a category where Xavier can really exploit NC State.

Keep an eye on the rebounding rates tonight.  Xavier will probably give up a few more offensive boards than they’d like, but they should be able to dominate on the offensive glass.  If they aren’t, that could spell trouble for the Musketeers.

Three-point Shooting

NC State has only one shooter worth mentioning, 6’5″ Ralston Turner, who makes threes at a 36.7% average.  That’s a good mark, but he gets there in a streaky fashion.  If he’s on, he’s killing you.  If he’s off, he’s killing NC State, though he’ll at least still stretch the defense out.  A key to the game will be stopping him, because the Wolfpack need support for Warren coming from somewhere, and Turner is one of the best options.  Other than Turner, no one is really good from 3, but there are four guys between 23% and 28%.  Xavier cannot allow them to get wide-open looks and needs to at least challenge them on any shot attempts from deep, but if they do that job well, NC State won’t even attempt many three-point shots and will have to turn to Turner for their only perimeter shooting.  It’s why they rank 339th in the ratio of three-point attempts to field-goal attempts.

On the other end, three-point defense is the only thing that the Wolfpack are actually decent at, holding opponents to 32.0% (61st).  This isn’t a major part of Xavier’s game, as they are only a little ahead of NC State in ratio of attempts at 310th.  Whereas NC State as a team is just awful from deep (30.3%, 325th), Xavier has scouted itself well and is just selective (35.4%, 125th).  Justin Martin has become the team’s only consistent three-point option, shooting 39.1% on the season and 43.0% in conference play.  Dee Davis is the only other regular option (37.3%), and he’s streaky like Turner.  I still have no idea what happened to James Farr (38.0%) and Myles Davis (33.9%), especially since Farr was shooting 37.5% in the first half of conference play.

Martin continuing to be Martin and some timely shots from his teammates could be important in this game, but Xavier will spend more time slashing to the basket or working the ball through the bigs.  NC State’s two-point defense (47.1%) only ranks 122nd, playing to Xavier’s strengths (51.5%, 58th).

Free Throws

This is an area where Xavier should have a big advantage.  The Wolfpack send players to the line way too much, with opponents shooting 43.1% as many free-throws as they do field goals (233rd).  Xavier is by no means good at drawing fouls, with a rate of 42.0% (122nd), but they are clearly better at getting to the line than NC State is at preventing opponents from doing so.  Also, Semaj Christon has a personal FT rate of 57.0%, though after a well-known early-season slump, he’s only shooting 67.0% on the season.  Isaiah Philmore is even better at getting to the line (70.2% FT rate), converting attempts at a 70.5% rate.  The team as a whole is shooting better than their 68.8% average, as they joined Semaj in that early season slump, so they should be able to get a lot of points at the free throw line.

NC State is even worse at getting to the line than stopping their opponents from ending up there, with a FT rate of 36.4%, 281st in the country.  Warren does draw 6.1 fouls per 40 minutes (133rd), but not enough are on shot attempts, as his FT rate is only 33.3% (The bigger concern here could be if he gets Martin into foul trouble).  Only Desmond Lee has a good FT rate (58.6%, 205th) among players with respectable usage rates.  When NC State gets to the line, most of their team is hovering around 70% or worse, which is why they are shooting 66.1% (296th).  Add this together with Xavier’s advantage on offense, and this should be a game where Xavier makes more free throws than their opponents attempt (like the good old days!).

Semaj Christon

I’m book-ending this post with the two star players (and former roommates at Brewster Academy).  Xavier will have a hard time slowing down Warren, but NC State could find it just as difficult, if not more so, to stop Semaj.  It’s not that Semaj is necessarily better than Warren; they’re both great players.  NC State has really struggled with big, athletic guards, though, as they have no defensive answer, whereas Xavier can somewhat answer Warren with Martin, Philmore, and Reynolds.  Look for Semaj to have a big game slicing through NC State’s weak defense (144th in adjusted defensive efficiency).

So the key are:

– Slow down Warren, preventing his teammates from getting involved

– Do a decent job on the defensive glass and dominate the offensive glass

– Challenge the poor three-point shooters and lockdown Turner, while looking for timely shots on the other end.

– Make more free throws than NC State attempts

– Let Semaj go to work

Let’s hope Xavier gets an opportunity to play SLU!

The Creighton Loss and Selection Sunday

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Creighton couldn’t stop this monster!  Too bad Xavier couldn’t get him the ball more… (Jim O’Connor, USA Today Sports)

I waited until this morning to write this piece, (1) because I was disappointed and (2) because i wanted to see where the chips fell first.  Selection Sunday is tonight, and it should be an interesting one for Xavier fans.

On Friday, Xavier fell 86-78 to Creighton in a game that felt much like the first outing than the second.  Foul trouble to key players, lights-out shooting from the Bluejays, an explosive Xavier offense that all the same was trading two-pointers for three-pointers, and a comeback from a double-digit deficit that made the game tense at the end.  Yep, that all sounds like a certain game in Omaha on January 12.  And though I am disappointed at the missed opportunity, much like that day, I am also very proud of the fight in this team.  Barring two exceptions (versus Tennessee in the Bahamas and at Georgetown), this team just does not give up in any game.  The fight this 2013-2014 edition of Xavier basketball has is incredible.  In the face of adversity, they willed themselves to victory against Bowling Green, Evansville, Alabama, Georgetown, and Marquette.  They ultimately did not prevail but nevertheless kept fighting in games against USC, Creighton (twice now), Providence, Marquette, Seton Hall, and Villanova.  Obviously, there’s the problem of getting in those situations in the first place, as this team does has it flaws, but the tenacity and the character is impressive.  To quote the late Gary Griffin from earlier this season, “I love this team!”

Now, about the game.  Despite Creighton scoring an amazing 1.41 points per possession, Xavier actually played some really good defense (outside a couple major drawbacks).  It was actually much better defense than the game in Omaha when they “held them” to their average of 1.22 points per possession.  That just emphasizes how ridiculously good Creighton’s A-game is.  Xavier’s defense was rotating extremely well, making Creighton work very hard to get their shots, but the Bluejays are an incredibly patient team and they found their openings.  Oftentimes, they simply hit some really tough shots, especially Doug McDermott.  If you were somehow in a coma for the past few months and were wondering why he will soon be declaring Player of the Year across pretty much all services, Friday’s game presented a shining example of exactly why.  Justin Martin was smothering him out there, playing the best defense I have ever seen from him, and McDermott just hit some near-impossible shots.  I’m still not sure how he hit that awkward fadeaway in the lane with Martin practically blocking his shot.  Jalen Reynolds also did a good job on Ethan Wragge early on, save one instance.  The defense on Ethan Wragge overall was the one major flaw for Xavier’s defense (Creighton’s transition scoring later in the game being the consequence of having to press when down double digits).  James Farr was a major culprit on this front, sagging way off of Wragge to help on drives, which is probably a reason he only saw 2 minutes, and Matt Stainbrook simply isn’t equipped to defend thirty feet from the basket.  Overall, this was the breakdown in Xavier’s defensive discipline, and it hurt their chances in a big way, as Wragge finished the game 5-9 from deep.

So, when Reynolds picked up his second foul with game only at 24-20 and when Martin picked up his second foul soon after, things got rough for Xavier.  Reynolds was one of the only ones doing a good job defending Wragge (Philmore was decent, but often not assigned to him), and Martin was the only player who remotely matched up with McDermott.  In addition, Reynolds presented a mismatch in the post (which was put to good use later in the game), and Martin was the main offensive force for Xavier in the first half and the primary reason they managed to keep up with Creighton’s blitzkrieg.  Creighton’s defense had been focused on denying Semaj driving lanes, and he wasn’t really efficient in the first half (and only moderately efficient for the game).  The packed-in nature of the defense also made it more difficult to exploit the size disparity with Philmore and Stainbrook, though they both had some good moments.  In the absence of Reynolds and Martin, though, the margin opened up to double digits and Xavier went into halftime down 45-33.

The second half started the same way, even with Martin and Reynolds return.  As Xavier kept fighting back, Creighton just kept responding.  It didn’t help that every tough shot seemed to go in for the Bluejays, even against great defense.  Honestly, I can’t think of the last time I’ve seen an offense this successful against defense like this.  It was incredible to watch, and I just wish I didn’t happen to be a fan of the team that had to face Creighton that day.  Later into the half, Creighton started scoring off of Xavier’s pressure, which was the obvious but necessary risk, and the deficit ballooned to 19 (71-52) with 8:08 to play.  Most would simply consider the game over by that point.  Not the Musketeers.

Xavier had been scoring steadily in the second half, especially with its mismatches on the interior.  The more finesse Creighton frontcourt couldn’t handle the size, physicality, and (in one case) athleticism of Reynolds, Philmore, and Stainbrook.  The problem was that Xavier had been unable to stop the juggernaut on the other side of the court.  That changed at this point, as Xavier held Creighton without a field goal for 5 1/2 minutes.  I don’t think the Xavier defense really changed here.  They simply stuck to the system they believed in and Creighton finally started missing shots.  At the last media timeout, the deficit was down to 10.

Then Isaiah Philmore went to work, like it was his last game he would ever play his senior year (it won’t be).  Zeke scored 9 points in the last 2:19, beginning with five straight to cut the deficit to 6.  The free throw line on the Creighton side had begun, and Dee Davis came back down the court to knock down a clutch three-pointer.  The game was once 71-52 but had been cut down to 77-72 in less than 7 minutes.  The decisive moment was Grant Gibb’s second free throw attempt on the other end bouncing off the rim at a 90 degree angle to Austin Chatman.  If Xavier had snagged that offensive rebound, they would have had possession down 6 with 1:16 to go.  That wasn’t the result, but I’m impressed with how close they came, especially with the play of Philmore, who finished with 23 points and 7 rebounds.  In the end, Creighton took care of business at the free throw line, making their final 8 attempts, to seal the game, but Xavier made it hard on them for sure.

That challenge may have actually helped Providence the next night.  Even when Creighton was hitting shots, Xavier was still making them work hard for it, and the physicality with which Xavier plays, especially in the paint, had to have worn down a Creighton team that had just easily beat up on DePaul the previous night.  Ed Cooley came out with a great gameplan involving an interesting zone defense (With the Bluejays’ shooting, who would have thought?) and played Creighton with the same level of physicality that Xavier had.  In the end, the Friars beat a Creighton team that shot 26.7% from three-point range (but couldn’t give Xavier the same courtesy!), and Providence, as the Big East Tournament Champions, can now ignore the Bubble that once gripped them so thoroughly.

And that brings us to Xavier.  For starters, I am 99.9% confident that Xavier will receive a tournament invite, so I don’t consider that to be worth discussing here (and if somehow Xavier isn’t invited, I’m not even going to post here out of rage).  My concern here is over where Xavier falls in seeding, particularly in terms of whether or not they receive a bye from the play-in game in (ugh) Dayton.  If Providence had lost to Creighton but still made the tournament, they would have been a play-in team, making it less likely that Xavier would have been one of those four.  Since auto-bids are not eligible for the 11- and 12-seed play-in games, the Friars essentially leapfrogged the Musketeers.  Keep in mind that Dayton also has the potential to be slotted in the play-in game, and a matchup between the Flyers and the Musketeers would be…gratuitous on the part of the Selection Committee.  Whether it’s Dayton or not, the crowd will still be hostile, as Dayton fans have already picked up pretty much all the tickets not allotted to specific teams, as they do every year, since usually that’s the only part they have in the Dance (bazing!).  The play-in game is also not palatable because (1) it’s a legitimate challenge to win it, (2) it makes the Thursday/Friday game tougher after a win, since there’s only a two-day turnaround, and (3) it doesn’t feel like the tournament yet.

So what are the chances of getting that bye?  It depends on who you turn to.  Right here, I’m crossing Jerry Palm off the list to consider and you should too, as he has been a mediocre bracketologist.  I don’t even know how similar his bracket is this year to some I’m going to list (even blind squirrels can find a nut now and then), but I don’t really care, because I at least know I can rely on others’ track records.  Overall, Joe Lunardi has been mediocre too, but it’s been pointed out to me that he has done much better over the past two seasons.  With a more transparent Selection Committee recently (Thanks, Mike Bobinski!), everyone has done better, but Lunardi has done “more better.”  He has us in the Last Four not playing Dayton but playing BYU***, a familiar opponent to Xavier fans from the 2006-2007 season in an 8/9 matchup that was a tense back-and-forth game punctuated by brilliant play from Drew Lavender.  Dayton and Nebraska are the other two play-in teams for Lunardi.  St. Joseph’s, Arizona State, SMU, and Tennessee are the First Four Byes.  Southern Miss, Minnesota, Florida State, and California are the First Four Out.

***BYU’s placement in (or out) of the field will be interesting, as they lost one of their star players, Kyle Collingsworth, to a season-ending injury in a loss to Gonzaga in WCC Tournament Championship.

The method of ranking I used to discredit Palm as average comes from the Bracket Project, which does a Bracket Matrix that builds a composite of all sorts of professional and amateur brackets.  The idea is that the wisdom of the crowd will eliminate outliers and eventually come to the best results, which proved true last year, as it was the #1 overall.  It has been one of the better projections in other years too.  Xavier comes in as the best of the Last Four In, grouped with the same trio as Lunardi, who are all right behind Xavier.  The Musketeers have an average seed of 11.01.  Tennessee and Southern Methodist are both similarly rated to Xavier, coming in at 10.82 and 10.85.  Arizona State, Iowa, and St. Joseph’s are the only other teams that come within a seed on average.  Southern Miss, Minnesota, California, and Florida State are the First Four Out (though none of them are included in more than 10 of the 84 brackets currently).

So that’s two projections from well-respected sources that put Xavier in Dayton on Tuesday or Wednesday, though they’re right on the border on the Bracket Matrix and I’m not sure where they fall within that group for Lunardi.  That’s a little disconcerting, but don’t worry, there’s still hope:  Dance Card, which has been one of the best sources for bracketology.  They use an algorithm to project the field, and it has been highly successful.  Xavier is far from being relegated to a play-in game and is actually ranked 39th, the equivalent of a 10 seed!  Their Last Four In are rather different from the other sources, with only Nebraska being the same (BYU is the first team above the cut-off).  The other three are Nebraska, Iowa, and Oklahoma State.  Southern Miss, SMU, NC State, and Florida State are the First Four Out.  Dayton, who has otherwise joined Xavier in the Last Four In, is actually three spots higher than Xavier’s fairly lofty position, basically flipping spots with Iowa.

Iowa is an interesting case, because they are usually projected higher (and their Kenpom and Sagarin ratings would suggest that too), but Dance Card has them pretty low (and I agree).  They were 27th in Kenpom last year, though, and didn’t make the field at all, despite some good wins and only two bad losses.  Why?  Their non-conference SOS was one of the worst in the nation, they only scheduled one non-conference road game (and lost it), their road record overall was 2-8, and their conference record was 10-10.  Though the Selection Committee is making increased use of advanced statistical models like Kenpom, these areas I just listed have a disproportionate influence on Bubble teams, thus indicating why Iowa received the opportunity to lose in the NIT Championship.  This year, they significantly improved their non-conference SOS to a still-decidedly-bad 190, they still only scheduled one non-conference road game (and lost it again), their road record improved to 4-6, and their conference record was similar at 9-10.  They only accrued one bad loss this time to their collection of good wins (Xavier is one of them, you’re welcome), and their efficiency numbers stayed about the same.  I think this time, Iowa has done enough to receive a bid, but I don’t think they are a lock to receive a bye, which many projections give them.  I’m with Dance Card on this placement in the Last Four In, which would increase the likelihood of Xavier avoiding this fate.

Oklahoma State is projected even higher by other services, falling on the 8/9 seed line frequently, so their position as the last team in the tournament is pretty interesting.  Dance Card, being a formula, wouldn’t take into account Marcus Smart’s suspension, which the Selection Committee probably will, so that will bump them up some most likely.  Their non-conference SOS is marginal rather than straight-up bad, though they are also guilty of only scheduling one road game there (at least they won it, but they went 2-8 overall on the road).  Their conference record is a pretty poor 9-11.  Once again, we’re seeing the recipe for Bubble status, rather than lock status, and Oklahoma State could find themselves in a play-in game, but I think it’s unlikely.  I would not be surprised to see them with a double-digit seed, though.

When it comes to Xavier, one interesting thing to consider is how the Selection Committee will view Matt Stainbrook’s injury.  With him averaging double-digit minutes in the two games this week, after only recently getting injured, I think they’ll project him at 100% for the tournament.  That said, how will they view Xavier’s losses when he either didn’t play or was only good for bench minutes?  The Musketeers went 1-3 in their final four games, 20-9 prior to that.  The Seton Hall game could likely get an asterisk, since his injury happened mid-game.  Losing to two top 10 teams with 0 minutes or 9 minutes from the Big Stain could also be suggestive of how good Xavier will be again with him back.  I doubt it would make a major difference, as it was only a four-game stretch in which Xavier won a game and lost to two elite teams that likely could have beat Xavier with him at full-strength.  Still, it could be enough to help Xavier avoid that play-in game slot, especially if the loss at Seton Hall receives that asterisk.

So, respectable sources are saying different things about Xavier’s position, though at least no one is really saying Xavier won’t make the tournament.  I’m leaning to a 2 to 1 chance that Xavier gets a bye, which aren’t really odds that I fancy.  A win versus Creighton would have stowed away that talk, but it wasn’t meant to be, no matter how much heart the players had.  I could go on much longer with the analysis (clearly), but I think I’ll just wait for 6pm tonight.